From June 12th to June 14th, 1962, I spent three successive evenings
in a recording studio in Bayswater, London, watching Frank Sinatra cutting
the ten sides which comprise his album of British ballads. From the first
moment, with the musicians in the accompanying orchestra rising in a burst
of spontaneous applause as Sinatra made his first entry, to the last,
when he cut three sides in just under the hour, the episode was most extraordinary.
It was obvious after only a few minutes that Sinatra was virtually A&R
man for his own session. He spotted a wrong note among the second violins,
amended tempos, explained the crescendos and diminuendos he thought should
be made, and even gave the bar number on one occasion where he thought
the tape might have to be spliced. He was the complete professional, thinking
of a dozen things at once, and producing a vocal performence of superlative
During the three evenings, half of British Show Business sat in the studio
looking agape at the exhibition of virtuosity before them. Many of them,
like myself, were seeing Sinatra for the first time, and the fact that
he really had turned out to be as large as life seemed to delight them
almost as much as his singing. The remarkable thing was his blend of ruthless
concentration and gay self-mockery, which was demonstrated by his reaction
to one of the songs.
Apparently the range of the song was causing him some deep thought. Halfway
through the first take, he broke off on the climactic line and emerged
from the voice box waving his arms for the orcestra to stop, remarking
to the studio in general, "I can't even talk in that key." Then
he drank a cup of coffee and tried again. This time he did a perfect take,
and came out of the box smiling, remarking to the audience, "See
what you get when you keep good hours and live a clean life?"
The contrast to this surface flippancy came during the take and during
the play-back which followed. While he was singing, Sinatra, eyes closed,
body swaying, lived the sentiments of the lyric and the rich undulations
of the melody, oblivious of those around him. And soon after, when the
take was fed back through the loud-speakers, he stood alone in the middle
of the studio floor, listening like a musicologist for the slightest deviation
from the standards he sets himself. It was now that he looked like the
isolated figure people sometimes imagine him to be.
This pattern of all-out concentration on the work in hand, alternating
with the humour which arises out of extreme candour about one's own professional
ability, ran through all three evenings. When he heard the cascading sound
of the brass section in "Garden In The Rain" for the first time,
he laughed in appreciation. Once, when an unusually witty phrase came
out of the celeste, he caught my eye across the studio and smiled broadly
as if to say, "How about that?" When there was a doubt about
which of two takes to accept for "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley
Square," he said, "Keep the second one, because the trombone
solo was excellent."
The session in Bayswater was the climax of his remarkable London appearance.
Twelve days before, he had embarked on his series of concerts for Children's
Charities, conquering the town with faultless singing and consumate stage
presence. Tickets for his concerts were reported to be changing hands
at ten times the original price. The agency which handledthe tour received
twenty thousand letters from irate correspondents who had been unable
to procure a ticket. The recording session was a necessary, because it
perpetuated on wax an interlude in his career too outstanding to be forgotten.
And just as important, he gave at last to the handful of oustanding British
popular songs, the kind of treatment their virtues deserve.
The Observer, London
Author of The Reluctant Art
The Very Thought Of You
We'll Gather Lilacs In The Spring
If I Had You
Now Is The Hour
Roses Of Picardy
A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square
A Garden In The Rain
London By Night
We'll Meet Again
I'll Follow My Secret Heart
Sings Great Songs From Great Britain from Amazon.co.uk.